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British Charity Evacuated From Darfur Town

A British charity says it is eager for its staff to return to a town in Sudan's western Darfur region as soon as the area is safe, following a recent evacuation because of fighting.

A spokeswoman for Save the Children UK, Laura Conrad, told VOA Tuesday more than 30 of her Sudanese colleagues are waiting in the north Darfur town of El-Fashir following their recent evacuation there from a nearby town.

She said the organization will not move its staff back to the town of Tawillah until it receives assurances from the United Nations that the fighting has stopped.

"There's important work, clearly, with 30,000 people dependent on aid agencies for assistance," she said. "It's important that we get back there as soon as we can, but clearly the safety of our staff is paramount so until those checks are carried out, we will await those before we return."

Fighting broke out in and around Tawillah early Monday morning near the area where Save the Children was working. Ms. Conrad says the fighting involved troops from the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army, one of two rebel groups operating in Darfur.

The Save the Children staff was assisting some 30,000 displaced people in Tawillah. When the violence began, the Save the Children workers retreated to a feeding center to await instructions.

"There was then some aerial bombardment which seems to have been government retaliation for an SLA attack that took place earlier in the day, and at that point our staff split into two groups and went on foot into the desert where they awaited further instructions. And they were eventually collected by the African Union troops," Ms. Conrad added.

Under a cease-fire they had signed earlier, the Sudanese government and the rebel groups are supposed to refrain from fighting as they try to end the conflict, which has been raging in the western Sudanese region for almost two years.

The African Union has been steadily sending observers and troops to Darfur to monitor the shaky cease-fire. Ms. Conrad said it is clear to Save the Children that both sides are violating the cease-fire.

The parties recently signed an agreement during peace talks in Nigeria that would, among other things, guarantee humanitarian access to people who need assistance, and disarm the janjaweed, a militia allied with the government. They are due to resume their talks in Nigeria on December 10.

African Union officials could not be reached for comment. Media reports indicate that six civilians died during Monday's attack.

The conflict in Darfur, which the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, has displaced an estimated 1.5 million people and has killed tens of thousands.